Local Politics: Grass finds Roots
"If I win this election, there is a fair chance that I'll get a ticket in the next assembly polls," says a young man contesting for the post of sarpanch in a village near Bijnor, UP. The recent panchayat elections saw several young men and women filing nominations for a post which has traditionally been the stronghold of elderly upper-caste males. Many of them emerged victorious too.
In the neighbouring state of Bihar, where assembly elections are underway, newspapers were abuzz with reports of 'reverse brain drain'. Young people are going back to their roots, returning to their hometowns, mingling with locals, some of them fed up with the culture of corruption that has become entrenched. "The image of Bihar as a safe haven for corruption and crime needs to be done away with," said one of them in a TV interview. To pocket the votes of Gen-X, Congress and BJP fielded young candidates in many constituencies.
Politics is catching the fancy of the young in a big way. With student body elections in colleges and universities becoming an eyesore for various governments, panchayat and assembly elections have become the new turfs where pitched battles are being fought these days. As stakes climb high with the kind of money being channelled to the panchayats under development schemes, including for the MGNREGS, for some it has become a professional career. Agrees an activist from Bihar, "Only people with a corrupt and criminal bent of mind are entering local politics." The recent polls in Bihar saw even Congress fielding candidates with a criminal past, despite Rahul Gandhi's claims.
"The notion that politicians can get away with even the gravest of offences is a driving factor for many," says Tabish Ali, a postgraduate student. Even in the panchayat polls many candidates echoed how they wanted to climb the political ladder for securing a respectable place for themselves in society. "If I manage to win, everyone in the village will start referring to me as pradhanji," a candidate said.
Also, the rise of Dalit leaders like Mayawati has worked wonders. Political assertion has seeped into the minds of the youth belonging to lower castes. Now, even in the Hindi heartland, instances of Dalits being bullied or ostracised by the upper castes have declined. "It's a mixed bag. The entry of youth into politics is a great thing. It brings in more vibrancy in this large, ailing democracy. We do not need only intellectuals, but also people who rise from the grassroots and have a support base," says Abhishek Jha, a student.